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How to use digital PDF sewing patterns

Digital PDF sewing patterns are a practical and affordable way to explore new projects. The digital format has many pros:

  • cheaper than the printed counterpart
  • you don’t have to wait for it to be delivered
  • you can print it at home and get started sewing.

Although digital PDF patterns are widely available right now, sometimes we are afraid to mess the scale up and end up with a faulty pattern.

That’s why in Today’s post I’ll show youhow to use digital PDF patternssuch as these, with an easy guide perfect for beginners.

Let’s get started!

How to use digital PDF sewing patterns

Before going into detail about how to use a digital PDF pattern, let’s seewhat is a digital pattern in the first place?

A digital PDF pattern is made of a series of files, tipically in PDF format, that you can download and read on your laptop or any other device. To make this guide easier, I’ll explain to you all the steps to use a digital sewing pattern with an example of pattern from my online shop. Based on the designer, sewing patterns may differ a little but the main step will remain the same.

A good-quality commercial or indie digital sewing pattern is made of a series of file: beside the sewing pattern itself, tipically available in different print formats, you’ll find the instruction booklet, printing instructions and licence files. In this guide we’ll see each and every single file composing a digital pattern so that you’ll find it easier to navigate.

Cartamodelli cartacei appesi su stand grucce - The Yellow Peg

Digital vs. printed sewing patterns: the differences

One of the main advantages of digital sewing patterns is that they are cheaper than the printed counterpart. In my online shop you can find sewing patterns in both versions so that you can pick your favourite option (NB: English users you can buy my sewing patterns from my Etsy shop) Printed patterns have the advantage to include everything you need without having to bother with printing or assemblying them. Plus, if you’re anything like me, you’ll love having printed patterns to collect in your stash. My pattern series, TYP/Patterns, come with a lovely little box which will look adorable in your sewing room.

However, sometimes I do prefer to buy digital patterns because I can get them directly to my email box without having to wait for the postal service. Plus, they are obviously cheaper.

The reason is that the designer has not printing costs and can sell the pattern at a lower price. You’ll save even more money ’cause you won’t have to pay for the shipment.

Now that we talked about the differences between digital and printed sewing patterns, let’s go into detail of the files they are composed of, how to print and how to assemble them.

Cartamodello cartaceo Abito Bon Bon con versioni cucite

1- Files in a digital PDF sewing pattern

PDF sewing patterns are tipically downloadable in a .rar or .zip compressed file format. Most operating systems in modern laptops are able to open this file format (and “unzip” their content) with a simple double click. We come up with a bunch of files in a folder, let’s see the example of my digital Bon Bon Dress+T-shirt pattern:

Cartamodelli digitali - file inclusi

The first file is a README file and, if present, it is the starting point where to find all the practical info and the description of the rest of files. In my example, here’s where I also put my license information. For digital as well as printed products, knowing the type of license under which a pattern is released is key to know how to use it in compliance with the author’s copyrights (e.g. if we can sell products made from that pattern, if we can modify it for commercial purposes, etc.)

The remaining files in the folder are a quick guide to printing PDF patterns, the instruction booklet and the print files of the sewing pattern.

The guide shows how to print and assemble the pattern at home in A4 format, I always put it in every one of my patterns to make them easy to use for beginner users.

The instruction booklet is usually composed of a number of pages with text and images, so the mostgreen choice is not to print it and consult it on your favourite device.

As for the sewing pattern files, the number and type depends on the designer. Usually when you buy a digital PDF pattern the product description includes the available print format(s) (sizes) as well as the size chart (for multi-size patterns).

All my sewing patterns include a few print size options so that the user can choose to print only what he/she is interested in, saving paper and time.

First of all, you can find 2 different print formats: A4 and A0. The first one allows you to print with a standard home printer in A4 size (21 x 29,7 cm). In this case, all pattern pieces are split into different A4 pages which you’ll need to assemble to obtain the full pattern.

Alternatively, you can print in A0 size (84,1 x 118,9 cm). In this case you’ll have to bring your pattern to a copy shop where plotter printers are available to print in this format. Good thing will be you won’t have to bother assemblying the pattern.

As you can see, in my patterns a number of different files for printing in A4 size are available. This is because each of my patterns include multiple versions of the same garment and you have the option to print just one of them instead of them all. For example, the Bon Bon sewing pattern includes:

  • one file for printing version 1 only in A4 format (sleeve-less dress with buttons)
  • one for version 2 (dress with 3/4 sleeves)
  • one for version 3 (t-shirt with peplum)
  • one for all versions

If you’re planning to make just one version of the garment or you’d like to print only your size (I’ll explain how to do this in step 2) to be able to cut it without tracing it, you can pick the file accordingly. Otherwise, print the complete pattern: you’ll have a full pattern including all the options for future use.

Let’s now see how to print a digital PDF sewing pattern at home in A4 size and assemble it afterwards.

2 – How to print a digital sewing pattern at home

Once you chose the pattern version you’d like to print, open the corresponding file (it will be named something like XXX_TYP_A4.pdf) with Acrobat Reader. If you don’t have this PDF reader, you can easily download it from here.

Once the file is open, select “File → Print”, you’ll see a window with the printer settings. Now be careful! This step is key to make sure you’ll print a pattern with the correct size. In the print settings make sure the “Adapt” option is not selected” and that you are printing at 100% scale.

Impostazioni di stampa per cartamodelli digitali

Based on your operating system and the version of Adobe Reader you’re using this window may slightly differ. What you have to make sure is that your pattern won’t be squeezed in the A4 page or its size altered somehow.

To this purpose, do as follows:

  • print page 1 only, in this way
Stampa di prova cartamodello PDF
  • measure the test square you find in the upper right corner of the page and make sure its size corresponds to what’s written in the pattern
Pagina cartamodello PDF con quadrato di test per stampa A4
  • if it matches (e.g. 5 cm / 2″ side), proceed with printing the other pages.

In my patterns I always put a 5 cm (2″) square in the first page and this is usually what you can expect from other digital patterns too (although the actual square size may change).

3 – How to print a specific size of the sewing pattern

Most digital sewing patterns allow you to print a specific size instead of printing them all. This way you can save paper and you have the option not to trace the pattern and cut it right away.

This is because PDF patterns can be split into more layers and Adobe Reader allows you to select which layers to print, based on your needs. Basically you’ll have a size per layer plus some additional layers for general pattern information and symbols.

To access this layer selection panel you can use theicon which is usually on the left of the document.

Livelli per stampa cartamodelli PDF multi taglia
Selezione livello di stampa cartamodello PDF multi taglia

Once open, the layer panel will allow you to select which layers you’d like to print clicking on the eye icon. You may select just one size or more. Just remember that for a correct pattern print, you need to always keep the following layers:

  • Info & symbols
  • A4 print (to be able to assemble the pattern pages)
  • One or more size layers

You can then proceed with printing the pattern, next step we’ll see how to assemble all the pages together.

4 – How to assemble a PDF digital sewing pattern

It’s time to assemble our sewing pattern. You’ll need a lot of tape and scissors for the job.

Based on the number of pages your pattern is composed of, you may have tens of pages to put together. Fear not! With some patience you’ll have your pattern ready for tracing.

The assembly info on digital patterns may vary from designer to design, but usually you always have on each page:

  • a page number
  • an bounding box including the pattern lines
  • some symbols (e.g. diamonds in my case) to allow you to align the pages together

But how do you know in which order to put the pages together both vertically and horizontally? That’s where the assembly instructions come handy. You can usually find them in one of the pattern files (in my case in the “How to print a PDF pattern” guide) and they usually include an overview picture of the full assembled pattern. It will be you reference to assemble your pattern.

As my sewing patterns include more than one version, you’ll find one pattern overview picture for each of the versions. Here’s an example:

Schemi assemblaggio cartamodelli digitali pdf

In the picture above you can see the assebly schemes for 2 versions of the Bon Bon pattern (v.2. and 3). Each rectangle in the scheme is an A4 page numbered as in the pattern files you printed. For instance, to assemble v.2 of the pattern the scheme tells you you have to put together 5 pages per row, the first row will be pages 1 to 5, the second 6 to 10 and so on.

We’re almost there! Here’s a little trick to make sure to navigate this step as easily as it gets! Not just for my sewing patterns, for all of them.

First trim or fold under both the right and the bottom side of each page along the bounding box so that it will be easier to aligh it to the others. Then, tape the pages following the scheme, assemblying first all the rows from left to right and then putting them together.


Now that you have all the details on how to use digital PDF sewing pattern, it’s going to be so easy!

Once you assemble the entire pattern you can cut you size or trace it to preserve the original pattern. Remember to transfer all symbols onto the new paper pattern while tracing. Also remember that all my patterns do include all seam allowances so you can use them right away.

Feeling like trying digital patterns? You can find them in my Etsy shop.

Have you ever used digital sewing patterns?

ciao ciao!


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